John Fletcher


Pious Calvinists have had, at times, nearly the same views of Christian perfection as we haveThey dissent from us chiefly because they confound the anti-evangelical law of innocence, and the evangelical law of liberty; Adamic and Christian perfection; and because they do not consider that Christian perfection, falling infinitely short of God's absolute perfection, admits of a daily growth.
IF it were necessary, we could support the doctrine of Christian perfection stated in the preceding pages, by almost numberless quotations from the most judicious and pious Calvinists, the sentiments of two or three of them may edify the reader, and give him a specimen of the candour with which they have written upon the subject, when a springtide of evangelical truth raised them above the shallows of their system.

"If love be sincere," says pious Mr. Henry, "it is accepted as the fulfilling of the law. Surely we serve a good Master, that has summed up all our duty in one word, and that a short word, and a sweet word, love, the beauty and harmony of the universe. Loving and being loved is all the pleasure, joy, and happiness of an intelligent being. God is love; and love is his image upon the soul. Where it is, the soul is well moulded, and the heart fitted for every good work." (Henry's Exposition on Rom. xiii, 10.) Again: "It is well for us that, by virtue of the covenant of grace, upon the score of Christ's righteousness, sincerity is accepted as our Gospel perfection." (Henry on Gen. vi, 2.) See the note on the word perfection, sec. 1.

Pious Bishop Hopkins is exactly of the same mind. "Consider," says he, "for your encouragement, that this is not so much the absolute and legal perfection of the work, as the [evangelical] perfection of the worker, that is, the perfection of the heart, which is looked at and rewarded by God. There is a twofold perfection, the perfection of the work, and that of the workman. The perfection of the work is, when the work does so exactly and strictly answer the holy law of God, that there is no irregularity in it. The perfection of the workman is nothing but inward sincerity and uprightness of the heart toward God, which may be where there are many imperfections and defects intermingled. If God accepted and rewarded no work, but what is absolutely perfect in respect of the law; this would take off the wheels of all endeavours, for our obedience falls far short of legal perfection in this life; [the Adamic law making no allowance for the weakness of fallen man.] But we do not stand upon such terms as these with our God. It is not so much what our works are, as what our heart is, that God looks at and will reward. Yet know, also, that if our hearts are perfect and sincere, we shall endeavour, to the utmost of our power, that our works may be perfect, according to the strictness of the law."

Archbishop Leighton pleads also for the perfection we maintain, and by Calvinistically supposing that perseverance is necessary to Christian perfection, he extols it above Adam's paradisiacal perfection. Take his own words abridged:"By obedience, sanctification is here intimated: it signifies both habitual and actual obedience, renovation of the heart, and conformity to the Divine will: the mind is illuminated by the Holy Ghost to know and believe the Divine will; yea, this faith is the great and chief part of this obedience, Rom. i, 8. The truth of the doctrine is impressed upon the mind, hence flows out pleasant obedience and full [he does not say of sin, but] of love: hence all the affections, and the whole body with its members, learn to give a willing obedience, and submit to God; whereas before they resisted him, being under the standard of Satan. This obedience, though imperfect, [when it is measured by the Christless law of paradisiacal innocence] yet has a certain, if I may so say, imperfect perfection. [It is not legally but evangelically perfect.] It is universal [or perfect] three manner of ways. (1.) In the subject: it is not in the tongue alone, or in the hand, &c, but has its root in the heart. (2.) In the object: it embraces the whole law, &c. It accounts no command little, which is from God, because he is great and highly esteemed; no command hard, though contrary to the flesh, because all things are easy to love; there is the same authority in all, as St. James Divinely argues. And this authority is the golden chain to all the commandments, [of the law of liberty preached by St. James,] which, if broken in any link, falls to pieces. (3.) In the duration: the whole man is subjected to the whole law, and that constantly. That this threefold perfection of obedience is not a picture drawn by fancy, is evident in David, Psalm cxix." (Archbishop Leighton's Com. on St. Peter, p. 15.)

That learned prelate, as a pious man, could not but be a perfectionist; though, as a Calvinist, he frequently spoke the language of the imperfectionists. Take one more quotation, where he grants all that we contend for:"To be subject to him [God] is truer happiness than to command the whole world. Pure love reckons thus, though no farther reward were to follow; obedience to God (the perfection of his creature, and its very happiness) carries its full recompense in its own bosom. Yea, love delights most in the hardest services, &c. It is love to him, indeed, to love the labour of love, and the service of it; and that not so much because it leads to rest, and ends in it, but because it is service to him Whom we love: yea, that labour is in itself a rest, it is so natural and sweet to a soul that loves. As the revolution of the heavens, which is a motion in rest, and rest in motion, changes not place, though running still; so the motion of love is truly heavenly, and circular still in God; beginning in him, and ending in him; and so not ending, but moving still without weariness, &c. According as the love is, so is the soul: it is made like to, yea, it is made one with that which it loves, &c. By the love of God it is made Divine, is one with him, &c. Now though fallen from this, we are invited to it; though degenerated and accursed in sinful nature, yet we are renewed in Christ, and this commandment is renewed in him, and a new way of fulfilling it [even the way of faith in our Redeemer] is pointed out." (Select Works of Archbishop Leighton, p. 461.) Where has Mr. Wesley ever exceeded this high description of Christian perfection?

I grant that this pious prelate frequently confounds our celestial perfection of glory with our progressive perfection of grace, and on that account supposes that the latter is not attainable in this life: but even then he exhorts us to quit ourselves like sincere perfectionists. "Though men," says he, "fall short of their aim, yet it is good to aim high. They shall shoot so much the higher, but not full so high as they aim. Thus we ought to be setting the state of perfection in our eye, resolving 3 not to rest content below that, and to come as near as we can, even before we come at it, Phil. iii, 11, 12. This is to act as one that has such a hope, such a state in view, and is still advancing toward it." (Ibid. p. 184.) The mistake of the archbishop will be particularly pointed out where I shall show the true meaning of Phil. iii, 11, the passage behind which he screens the remains of his Calvinian prejudices.

By the preceding quotations, and by two more from the Rev. Messrs. Whitefield and Romaine, which the reader will find at the end of sec. ix, it appears that pious Calvinists come at times very near the doctrine of Christian perfection; and if they do not constantly enforce it, it is, we apprehend, chiefly for the following reasons:

1. They generally confound the Christless law of innocence with the evangelical law of Christ; and because the former cannot be fulfilled by believers, they conclude that pure obedience to the latter is impracticable.

2. They confound peccability with sin; the power of sinning with the actual use of that power. And so long as they suppose that a bare natural capacity to sin, is either original sin, or an evil propensity, we do not wonder at their believing that original sin, or evil propensities, must remain in our hearts till death removes us from this tempting world. But on what argument do they found this notion? Did not God create angels and man peccable? Or, in other terms, did he not endue them with a power to sin, or not to sin, to disobey, or obey, as they pleased? Did not the event show that they had this tremendous power? But would it not be "blasphemous" to assert that God created them full of original sin and evil propensities? If an adult believer yields to temptation, and falls into sin as our first parents did, is it a proof that he never was cleansed from inbred sin? If sinning necessarily demonstrates that the heart was always teeming with depravity, will it not follow that Adam and Eve were tainted with sin before their will began to decline from original righteousness? Is it not, however, indubitable, from the nature of God, from Scripture, and from sad experience, that after having been created in God's sinless image and holy likeness, our first parents, as well as some angels, were "drawn away of their own self-conceited lust," and became evil by the power of their own free agency? Is it reasonable to think that the most holy Christians, so long as the day of their visitation and probation lasts in this tempting wilderness, are in that respect above Adam in paradise, and above angels in heaven? And may we not conclude that as Satan and Adam insensibly fell into sin, the one from the height of his celestial perfection, and the other from the summit of his paradisiacal excellence, without any previous bias inclining him to corruption; so may those believers, whose hearts have been completely purified by faith, gradually depart from the faith, and fall so low as to "account the blood of the covenant, wherewith they were sanctified, an unholy thing?"

3. The prejudices of our opponents are increased by their confounding Adamic 4 and Christian perfection; two perfections, these, which are as distinct as the garden of Eden and the Christian Church. Adamic perfection came from God our Creator in paradise, before any trial of Adam's faithful obedience: and Christian perfection comes from God our Redeemer and Sanctifier in the Christian Church, after a severe trial of the obedience of faith. Adamic perfection might be lost by doing despite to the preserving love of God our Creator; and Christian perfection may be lost by doing despite to the redeeming love of God our Saviour. Adamic perfection extended to the whole man: his body was perfectly sound in all its parts, and his soul in all its powers. But Christian perfection extends chiefly to the will, which is the capital, moral power of the soul; leaving the understanding ignorant of ten thousand things, and the body "dead because of sin."

4. Another capital mistake lies at the root of the opposition which our Calvinian brethren make against Christian perfection. They imagine that, upon our principles, the grace of an adult Christian is like the body of an adult man, which can grow no more. But this consequence flows from their fancy, and not from our doctrine. We exhort the strongest believers to "grow up to Christ in all things;" asserting that there is no holiness and no happiness in heaven, (much less upon earth,) which does not admit of a growth; except the holiness and happiness of God himself; because, in the very nature of things, a being absolutely perfect, and in every sense infinite, can never have any thing added to him. But infinite additions may be made to beings every way finite, such as glorified saints and holy angels are.

Hence it appears that the comparison which we make between the ripeness of a fruit, and the maturity of a believer's grace, cannot be carried into an exact parallel. For a perfect Christian grows far more than a feeble believer, whose growth is still obstructed by the shady thorns of sin, and by the draining suckers of iniquity. Beside, a fruit which is come to its perfection) instead of growing, falls and decays: whereas a "babe in Christ" is called to grow till he becomes a perfect Christian; a perfect Christian, till he becomes a disembodied spirit; a disembodied spirit, till he reaches the perfection of a saint glorified in body and soul; and such a saint, till he has fathomed the infinite depths of Divine perfection, that is, to all eternity. For if we go on from faith to faith, and are spiritually "changed from glory to glory," by beholding God "darkly through a glass" on earth; much more shall we experience improving changes, when we shall "see him as he is," and behold him face to face in various, numberless, and still brighter discoveries of himself in heaven. If Mr. Hill did but consider this, he would no more suppose that Christian perfection is the Pharisaic rickets which put a stop to the growth of believers, and turn them into "temporary monsters." Again:

Does a well-meant mistake defile the conscience? You inadvertently encourage idleness and drunkenness, by kindly relieving an idle, drunken beggar, who imposes upon your charity by plausible lies: is this loving error a sin? A blundering apothecary sends you arsenic for alum; you use it as alum, and poison your child; but are you a murderer, if you give the fatal dose in love? Suppose the tempter had secretly mixed some of the forbidden fruit with other fruits that Eve had lawfully gathered for use; would she have sinned if she had inadvertently eaten of it, and given a share to her husband? After humbly confessing and deploring her undesigned error, her secret fault, her accidental offence, her involuntary trespass, would she not have been as innocent as ever? I go farther still, and ask, May not a man who holds many right opinions, be a perfect lover of the world? And by a parity of reason, may not a man who holds many wrong opinions, be a perfect lover of God? Have not some Calvinists died with their hearts overflowing with perfect love, and their heads full of the notion that God set his everlasting, absolute hatred upon myriads of men before the foundation of the world? Nay, is it not even possible that a man, whose heart is renewed in love, should, through mistaken humility, or through weakness of understanding, oppose the name of Christian perfection, when he desires, and perhaps enjoys the thing?

Once more. Does not St. Paul's rule hold in spirituals as well as in temporals? "It is accepted according to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not." Does our Lord actually require more of believers than they can actually do through his grace? And when they do it to the best of their power, does he not see some perfection in their works, insignificant as those works may be? "Remove this immense heap of stones," says an indulgent father to his children, "and be diligent according to your strength." While the eldest, a strong man, removes rocks, the youngest, a little child, is as cheerfully busy as any of the rest in carrying sands and pebbles. Now, may not his childlike obedience be as excellent in its degree, and, of consequence, as acceptable to his parent, as the manly obedience of his eldest brother? Nay, though he does next to nothing, may not his endeavours, if they are more cordial, excite a smile of superior approbation of his loving father, who looks at the disposition of the heart more than at the appearance of the work? Had the believers of Sardis cordially laid out all their talents, would our Lord have complained that he did not "find their works perfect before God?" Rev. iii, 2. And was it not according to this rule of perfection that Christ testified the poor widow, who had given but two mites, had nevertheless cast more into the treasury than all the rich, "though they had cast in much;" because, our Lord himself being Judge, she had "given all that she had?" Now could she give, or did God require more than her all? And when she thus heartily gave her all, did she not do (evangelically speaking) a perfect work, according to her dispensation and circumstances?

We flatter ourselves that if these Scriptural observations and rational queries do not remove Mr. Hill's prejudice, they will at least make way for a more candid perusal of the following pages.

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